The Big Ten isn’t the best conference in college football this season, but the season has at least been interesting.
By Week 5, we’re still left wondering where Ohio State stands, and a rare in-state matchup with the (distant) No. 2 program in the state will be an interesting barometer.
Perhaps Cincinnati-Ohio State is a mismatch, but we know Tommy Tuberville can beat Urban Meyer. The Bearcats coach is one of four coaches to beat Meyer twice in his career.
In other league action, Maryland and Indiana gained a little bit of intrigue as both teams picked up Power 5 road wins last week.
Week 5 Big Ten Game Power Rankings
All games Saturday. All times Eastern.
1. Cincinnati at Ohio State
6 p.m., Big Ten Network
This game will be a bigger game for Cincinnati, a program that would like to think of itself as a power program but has not defeated Ohio State since 1897. The two teams didn’t even play between 1931-99. At least for Ohio State, this will be a good opportunity for the Buckeyes to re-establish their Big Ten bona fides. Two of the two areas Virginia Tech exposed for Ohio State two weeks ago — pass defense and the offensive line — will be tested again this week. Cincinnati quarterback Gunner Kiel, a Notre Dame transfer and former LSU commitment, is averaging 9.1 yards per attempt with 10 touchdowns and two interceptions against MAC teams. Meanwhile, the Bearcats have picked up 11 sacks in two games, eight of which against a bad Miami (Ohio) team.
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2. Maryland at Indiana
1:30 p.m., Big Ten Network
Who would have pegged this one as a compelling Big Ten game just a few weeks ago? Thank a pair of road wins by the Terrapins (34-20 over Syracuse) and Hoosiers (31-27 over Missouri). Neither of these teams may make noise in the title race, but they can’t be ignored. Both have names Big Ten fans need to know: Maryland defensive back William Likely has two non-offensive touchdowns this season (a punt return and an interception return), and Indiana running back Tevin Coleman has rushed for 569 yards (8.6 per carry) and six touchdowns this season, giving him 12 games in a row with a TD. The injury bug has already hit Maryland as the Terps lost a starting defensive end (Quinton Jefferson) and a tight end (Andrew Isaacs) for the season.
3. Minnesota at Michigan
6 p.m., Big Ten Network
This game might not be pretty, though it’s not clear for whom. First on the Michigan side: The Wolverines don’t plan on naming either Devin Gardner or Shane Morris quarterback until Saturday (after saying they’d do so Tuesday). The pair has combined for 10 of Michigan’s 12 turnovers this season. Meanwhile, Minnesota is second in the country in takeaways (13 in four games). For the Gophers, their quarterback situation is no more certain. Mitch Leidner has not been ruled out but he missed the last game with turf toe. Leidner’s replacement, Chris Strevener, completed 1-of-7 passes for seven yards and an interception while rushing for 161 yards and a score in a win over San Jose State last week. For all of Michigan’s struggles, run defense has not been one of them. The Wolverines are allowing 2.5 yards per carry and 30.3 yards per game.
4. Illinois at Nebraska
9 p.m., Big Ten
Two teams are at a bit of a crossroads. Nebraska may be the Big Ten’s only hope for the College Football Playoff, but the Cornhuskers have to tighten up in a few spots. Miami freshman Brad Kaaya was able to pass for 359 yards, 8.5 yards per attempt and three touchdowns against a Nebraska team whose pass defense numbers have gotten worse each game. The passing game is Illinois’ top strength with Oklahoma State transfer Wes Lunt completing 65.4 percent of his passes for 1,237 yards with 11 touchdowns and two interceptions. Illinois also started last season 3-1 before a 1-7 collapse. Illinois might not be able to win in Lincoln, but this could be a key game to set the tone for the remainder of the year under embattled coach Tim Beckman.
5. Northwestern at Penn State
3:30 p.m., ABC/ESPN2
The question is if Northwestern will be able to crack Penn State’s defense. The Nittany Lions are allowing only 1.8 yards per carry and 49.5 rush yards per game. Every other Big Ten allows at least 2.5 yards per carry and 71 yards per game. Meanwhile, Northwestern has managed just better than three yards per carry against Cal, Northern Illinois and Western Illinois. If that puts pressure on Northwestern’s ineffective passing game, the Wildcats are in trouble.
6. Wyoming at Michigan State
When Mark Dantonio looks at Wyoming under first-year coach Craig Bohl, he sees a mirror image. “They are probably more like us than anybody we play,” Dantonio said. Wyoming is a run-first team that has allowed more than 20 points just once this season (to Oregon). Michigan State shouldn’t have too much trouble but Wyoming can be pesky — two of the Cowboys' three wins have come in the fourth quarter.
7. Iowa at Purdue
Noon, Big Ten Network
Will Kirk Ferentz make the call at quarterback? Will he even need to make a decision at all? Backup C.J. Beathard stepped in for injured quarterback Jake Rudock to lead a comeback against Pittsburgh last week, leading Hawkeyes to one of the few offensive bright spots this season. Rudock’s injury status isn’t clear, and even if he’s healthy, Ferentz hasn’t committed either way on his quarterback. Purdue will find out.
8. Tulane at Rutgers
Rutgers poised itself to exceed its modest expectations this season when Paul James rushed for 173 yards and three touchdowns on 29 carries in the win over Washington State. Now, James is out for the season with a torn ACL. The Scarlet Knights will move on with Desmon Peoples (205 yards this season) and Justin Goodwin (104 yards).
9. USF at Wisconsin
Melvin Gordon is healthy and as productive as ever after rushing for 253 yards and five touchdowns against Bowling Green. Now, he’ll face a USF team two weeks removed from giving up 315 rushing yards to NC State.
Week 5 Big Ten Staff Picks
USF at Wisconsin (-34)
Tulane at Rutgers (-12)
Iowa (-10) at Purdue
Wyoming at Michigan St (-31)
Northwestern at Penn St (-11)
Maryland at Indiana (-5)
Minnesota at Michigan (-12)
Cincinnati at Ohio State (-15)
Illinois at Nebraska (-20)